Fearless Frank (1967)G

CapeWrecking ball

Hey, it’s a milestone: Cape Jeer’s one hundredth review. Whee!

What we have here is a cheap shitty superhero spoof from so long ago that there are virtually no nonspoof superhero films for it to mock. But if it’s not satirizing an established genre (except in other media), what is it doing? Well, trying to cash in on the Adam West Batman movie, I guess.

But it’s doing something else a bit more important: it’s introducing that hot new young talent, Jon Voigt. This is the one film he made before Midnight Cowboy — he was otherwise just a minor TV actor at the time. Now, of course, he’s an icon: the man who played FDR, the Pope, and Howard Cosell; the man who went on Fox News to say that President Obama “rapes this nation” with Marxism; and the man who may get the presumptive blame for whatever the hell went wrong with Angelina Jolie.

This is an early effort by Philip Kaufman, who went on to have a long and varied career, stretching from writing much of the Indiana Jones series, to a couple of tries at directing watery NC17 erotica like Henry & June. There are a bunch of other people named Kaufman in the credits.

Voigt plays a hillbilly, very much in the broad style that was popular for such characters back then, from the Beverly Hillbillies TV show to the hick-themed porn movies of Bethel Buckalew.

The movie uses tons of voice-over narration to tell us everything that’s going on — always a sign of keen talent at work. Sometimes the narrator even reads the dialogue instead of letting actors say it! But on the plus side, the narrator is Ken “Word Jazz” Nordine. Who also has an on-camera part.

(You know how old movies classically show a “looking through binoculars” effect with a figure-eight shaped black mask? This one shows it by shooting a scene through a metal pipe!)

The titles have fake comic-book panels... which for some reason are drawn in a forties golden-age style, instead of anything up to date.

And yet our hero never wears a superhero suit... this may be the only spoof I’ve ever seen which omits the most easily mocked of all comic book superhero attributes — the costume.

Voigt plays a country rube named Frank, who goes to the big city... Yep, it’s just like in Midnight Cowboy, except with superheroing instead of prostitution. He bumps into a gun-moll (Monique van Vooren, still shaking the goods at 42) who’s run away from The Boss, and for no damn reason, she has a magic amulet and decides to give it to him, even though she clearly needs it more herself. The gangsters then shoot Frank, right after he doesn’t take the amulet. Then an asshole mad scientist finds him apparently dead and revives him, with enhancements... such as flight. The scientist trains him in morals and elocution, so he learns to stop talking like a hick and start talking like an asshole, dresses him in a silk three-piece, and then sends him out to fight evil. But not to go find the moll, whose name, improbably, is “Plethora”...

What’s the worst flying effect you ever saw in a movie? Ten bucks says this one beats it. It’s a simple double-exposure! You see the buildings right through him.

Speaking of that... what’s the worst rubber bald-headed wig you ever saw in a movie? This one I’ll put fifty bucks on.

The mad scientist has a young daughter who he struggles constantly to keep Frank away from. Wait, “young” is not the word I want, is it?

The bad guys create a False Frank, who goes out to steal the power, and maybe the soul, of the real one... Frank gradually comes down with sports-star syndrome, until he’s brimming with arrogance and entitlement... no surprises how that works out for him.

Plethora sings. So does one of the mooks, who sounds like he’s been taking lessons from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. That scene raised my hopes for a minute, but alas, the Ledge is not actually in the picture.

This movie is not very funny, nor is it clever... in fact, most of it is monumentally stupid. But it does manage to be entertaining as camp — in those days, intentional camp hadn’t yet died a natural death. I didn’t regret watching it.

Voigt basically clowns his way through the first half with no effort at real acting, which for my money is better than the hamming we get from most of his colleagues. But then in the second half he turns mopey... the one small area where I have some admiration for their choices is in how they resolve the conflict of Frank vs. False Frank, in which it’s no longer obvious which of the two is the good guy. But it does rob the closing act of much of the sense of fun, such as it was, that enlivened the earlier proceedings.

I can say one other thing in this movie’s favor: it’s short.